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England

A lot of churches are turning over part of their graveyards to wildlife.

Personally, I think graveyards that are left to grow a little wild are stunning, although I know not everyone thinks the same.

Some prefer the beautifully manicured cemeteries and graveyards. I think there is a place for both.

I went for a walk around the village earlier, and the graveyard at St Peter’s Church in Yateley just reinforced my view that a little wilderness can look amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it looking so lovely.

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I’ve been back at work for two weeks and I haven’t had time to draw breath until now. But I now have a four-day weekend (woo hoo) with only a little bit of work from home so I thought I’d catch up a bit.

During my week off Man and I went to the seaside town of Skegness. It was Man’s birthday that week and I’d promised him a trip on a roller coaster so we headed for Fantasy Island, a couple of miles up the Lincolnshire coast.

Now, in my defense, I actually did check the website first to make sure it was open and although it appeared a little like a ghost town at first, it actually was up and running -ish,

It’s a strange place. In the shadows of the coasters there is Europe’s biggest seven-day market.

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So there were actually shoppers and stallholders milling about.

In fact, only one of the bigger coasters was open, so we bought Man a ticket and went to find a convenient vantage point for me to try and get a photo of him en route.

I found one sitting behind these two, who were having a tea break and waiting for customers.

So I sat, looking up, camera at the ready, waiting for Man to whizz over my head … when he came walking round the corner.

Yes, the roller coaster was open, but 12 people were needed to run it and he was number 4. This could take a while.

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We had a look around the market, it appeared to be selling the usual tat, nothing original really.

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Buy your luminous feather boa here.

We returned to the coaster… Man was now customer number 5.

So we repeated the procedure.

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Here’s one you could have ridden on if there were enough customers.

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For about two hours we had no luck at all. We even returned to the ticket sales office and tried to coerce the woman into confessing how many tickets she had sold, to see whether or not it was worth waiting for customers six through 12 to put in an appearance.

In the end we gave up, drove into Skegness and had fish, chips and mushy peas on the beach.

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And then bought some doughnuts.

A few hours later, after mooching about on the beach for a while, we were about to head home when we thought we’d give Fantasy Island just one more try.

Miraculously, just as we arrived back, customer number 12 turned up.

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And Man finally got his birthday trip on the roller coaster. I think he enjoyed it :)

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Yesterday Man and I went on a gargoyle hunt. More specifically, we went on a hunt for rude gargoyles.

I like gargoyles and in fact most types of stone carvings. Gargoyles are decorative water dispensers, used to channel excess rainwater off the roof of the church. Grotesques are carvings, they don’t serve any sort of practical purpose and often decorate roof lintels inside or out. Friezes are many grotesques purely for decorative purposes. Corbels are stones that help support the roof – again either internal or external – that can be decorated and many of these decorations are a corbel table. I went in search of a very specific type of grotesque and gargoyle yesterday and found both.

Ever since I first read about the Mooning Men on the Great English Churches website, I have wanted to see some. Now I think I have a pretty good collection of photos but, as always, there are plenty more to collect. The churches I visited are not Churches Conservation Trust churches, these are all in use, and they don’t feature in Simon Jenkins’ 1,000 Churches (but they really should).

We started our little journey at St John’s in Colsterworth in Lincolnshire where we came across a couple of lovely examples of what I was looking for.

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Here we go. He is definitely displaying his bum to the outside world.

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Here he is from another angle. And, if you look closely, he has his head between his legs (wait till you see what some of the others have stored there!!) … and you can see where the rainwater would have spouted from.

 

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This one’s a grotesque (no water spouting from the orifice here) and there is distinct genitalia there. How rude :) This is on the door arch, visible to all the pious parishioners on their way to prayer.

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And what on earth is this one doing! Most unsavoury for a place of worship.

Honestly, I think these are absolutely hilarious – and this was just church number one. I love the way it illustrates how sensibilities have changed over the years. Can you imagine someone building a church now and announcing they were going to decorate it with a man with his bum out and testicles and a (in some cases) penis on display. People would recoil in abject horror.

From Colsterworth we moved on to Ryhall jjst down the road but in the county of Rutland and another St John’s.

Ryhall has a really impressive frieze but that is going to have to wait for another post because this one is just about bums.

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And here we have the bottom scratcher. Quite brazen in his pose, he is looking directly out from the wall and quite clearly scratching his testicles! Also, despite the fact that he is clearly not used to get rid of water, the mason has put a strategically placed hole in his bum. What on earth is he trying to say with this?

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This one also has his bottom out, although it isn’t quite so brazen.

Now from Ryhall, we made our way to Easton on the Hill, which took use just over the border into Northamptonshire I believe, where we found the crudest  example yet.

This is All Saints Church in one of the prettiest little villages I’ve ever seen. And, as you approach the south porch of the church, above your head on the tower is this.

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Now there is a local legend that says he is pointing his bum in the direction of Peterborough Cathedral in protest at the stonemason not being paid. But other reports say there is no substance in that and suggest that, like other gargoyles, these Mooning Men were simply warding away sin and evil from the sanctity of the church.

He is certainly a good example though … and worth a look from a slightly different angle.

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Maybe the stonemasons just had a sense of humour? Or maybe, these weren’t thought funny at all but were designed to say ‘ya boo sucks’ to the devil.

From Easton to Oakham, county town of England’s smallest county, Rutland.

It has quite a majestic church – another All Saints.

But adorning the walls of this building, there are another couple of characters who aren’t being very saintly at all.

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Yep, another mooning man with his head stuck between his legs and his testicles on show.

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And another, only this one’s a little deformed … his genitalia is roughly the same size as his head!

Now there was me thinking that English church parishioners in the Middle Ages were a distinctly pious lot. Obviously I was wrong, or the notion of pious has changed slightly over the years, or there is some sort of sacred symbolism here that I’m just not aware of.

Whatever the answer, I had a pretty successful day yesterday as far as I am concerned. I certainly found what I set out to find.

Now the other thing I found, that I really wasn’t expecting and was a huge added bonus, is that every single one of these churches was open yesterday. So I also got to go inside and find out a bit more about them. And, in doing that, I learned about Isaac Newton, Anglo Saxon headstones and a woman called Tampon. So I think each church merits a little, slightly less tongue in cheek, post of its own at some point.

In the meantime, the guy responsible for the website mentioned at the top of this post, Lionel Wall, has written what I think is a very interesting document about the Mooning Men and a group that he calls the Demon Carvers of the East Midlands which, if you feel like it, you can read here.

Incidentally, apparently there are female versions of the Mooning Men … you know I am going to have to find some :)

You know there’s a lot more to Chelsea than a football team and a reality tv show. To be honest, I’m not hugely keen on either of those.

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Sloane Square

But I’ve fallen in love with Chelsea, it is just so cool.

Sloane Square and the King’s Road are still so vibrant – although I do wish I had been old enough to appreciate it in the 1960s and 70s when the King’s Road really was the epitome of cool.

Chelsea’s history goes back a lot further than that though. There was the Anglo Saxon settlement, a few Romans, medieval lords and a few kings along the way. The fountain these two are sitting in front of features images of Charles II and his mistress Nell Gwyn.

Sloane Square fountain

Sloane Square fountain

The King’s Road is named for these two. It was once a private road. King Charles lived at one end, the lovely Nell at the other. The road was built so he could gallop along it in private to see his lover.

The road really became famous in the 50s, 60s and 70s. In the late 1950s, Mary Quant opened her shop here and the King’s Road became eponymous with fashion, music and coolness. Mary created the mini skirt, hotpants, and huge great spidery eyelashes.

114bThere is still a Mary Quant shop here, only now it is in the rejuvenated Duke of York Square.

065bThis is the recording studio where the Beatles created the album cover for Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Just around the corner is a house formerly owned by Eric Clapton and probably party central for many a year. Bowie lived nearby, as did Mick Jagger.

118bAnd the Sloane Square Hotel is reputedly where Paul McCartney met Jane Asher and began their relationship.

Chelsea is also home to the Royal Chelsea Hospital where the Chelsea Pensioners live.

057bThat one’s a model, I’m really not sneaking up and surreptitiously snapping snoozing pensioners.

Around the hospital, Chelsea almost has a village feel. These two are contenders for my new home (if I had a fair few million pounds to spare that is).

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Beautiful aren’t they, especially in the spring, but sadly they are megamillions and, therefore, a little outside my budget.

Now just along from the Royal Chelsea Hospital (next door in fact) is the National Army Museum. I actually didn’t know it was there. As you walk past you may miss an extraordinary piece of history because it’s just a little unobtrusive.

058bBut this is an actual piece of the Berlin Wall, complete with original graffiti. I think it was presented to the museum because the British Army spent so long manning Checkpoint Charlie, but I’m not really sure.

059bAnd a little bit further along again was once the home of Oscar Wilde. Wilde was living here when he had an affair with the Marquess of Queensberry’s son. Old Queensberry wrote Wilde a letter that he deemed offensive so he tried to sue him for libel but the ensuing trial laid bare Wilde’s hidden life and resulted in his prosecution (and eventual jail sentence) for gross indecency with men. Bet he wished he’d left the old Marquess to rot.

Incidentally, the judge who jailed Wilde was his neighbour in this street too.

063bJust a little way further round the corner I found this. Now my guide for the afternoon, a lovely man called George from The Tour Hub London (where do you think I got all this information from?) wasn’t sure whether this had actually been Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s studio but thought probably not. It looks like both the studios (there are about seven of them) and the apartments around them were just named after him, having been built by Edward Holland. Chelsea Art School began life here in 1904. Anthony Devas had a studio here, as did noted Vogue fashion photographer Ronald Traeger who photographed, among others, Twiggy.

Finally, this is Hans Sloane.

050bOr rather, it’s a statue of him and it sits on the King’s Road, on one corner of Duke of York Square. He was a physician and a collector. You’ve probably guessed Sloane Square was named after him.

He was president of the Royal College of Physicians, President of the Royal Society (he succeeded Sir Isaac Newton) and Royal Physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II. He was the first Baronet of Chelsea and also founded the Chelsea Physic Garden. He was a collector of natural history and when he died, he bequeathed these to the nation (on condition parliament paid his executors £20,000) and they formed the beginning of the British Museum and the Natural History Museum.

Thanks Mr Sloane, you left us quite a legacy.

 

 

 

 

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In November 1943 the 155 residents of the ancient village of Imber in Wiltshire were called together and told their home was needed for the war effort.

Essential military training needed to take place in their parish, American soldiers being prepared for D-Day.

They were given until Christmas – 47 days – to leave.

They left and, although they were devastated, many appreciated that sacrificing the homes some families had lived in for generations was for the greater good.

They would return after the war was won they hoped … but that never happened.

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The Ministry of Defence never did hand the village back to its residents and, nearly 70 years on, Imber and its surrounding countryside still makes up part of the huge military exercise and training area on Salisbury Plain.

It is closed off to the public apart from a few days a year. And on those days people still flock to the lost village of Imber.

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One of those days was today. Routemaster buses ran through the village once more transporting the curious to see what remains.

I should have caught the bus but instead I drove … and discovered finding it is difficult, there are no road signs any more.

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They have been replaced with these, reminding all comers that this is a military zone and straying from the road can be dangerous.

I went to Imber because one of the Churches Conservation Trust churches still stands there. To be honest, it’s one of the only remains of the old village of Imber that still stands. The church will be the subject of another post.

IMG_6871bBehind these gates is what was once, I guess, a fine home.

IMG_6870bNow shutters bar the windows and the number 16 crudely painted to the right of the door marks it as a military training property.

IMG_6863bThese all have numbers too and I could imagine soldiers using them for training exercises. They have to train somewhere I suppose.

IMG_6874bI am sure once this house was home to a family and the village and tight-knit place, as most villages were.

IMG_6872bNow Imber has a sadness about it.

IMG_6819bThere is a sign on the footpath up to the church. A tribute to those villagers who served in the First World War.

Look at the names. This village had less than a couple of hundred residents but there are four called Daniels who experienced the horrors of the Great War , three called Daniell and two each of Gray’s, Potter’s, Tinnams and Carter’s, and a Carter who was wounded in action. You can only presume these soldiers came from the same family or extended family. Such a loss for such a small place.

There is no memorial to those who died in the Second World War. By the time the war was won, the families had been dispersed across the countryside to other villages and hamlets.

IMG_6821bInstead there is this. It commemorates both Victory in Europe and Victory in Japan in the Second World War and marks the sacrifice the village of Imber made in that effort.

This village may only have been small but it had been there for centuries with evidence of Saxon settlement and a mention in the Doomsday Book. The last line on the plaque says the parish was abolished in 1991.

So it has ceased to exist.

But it hasn’t, has it?

Because on those occasions the MoD allow, people still flock from miles around to find it the ‘lost’ village of Imber.

There are thousands of lost villages across the UK and scores of reasons for them being abandoned – politics, landlords’ whim, plague, erosion and war among those reasons.

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A burnt out tank sits at the side of one of the tracks into Imber.

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And after what seemed like miles of driving along a lonely road dotted with Danger UXB signs, you come to a check point. And this would normally be as close as you can get to the village.

I’m glad I got explore further, even if it was desperately sad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

522bBerwick-upon-Tweed, the most northerly town in England, and what a beautiful historic town it is.

On our recent visit to Northumberland Man and I decided we would start at the top, so we drove from Nottingham straight to Berwick.

501bThis is a town on the mouth of the river Tweed and among the first things we noticed were the bridges.

This viaduct takes the railway from England to Scotland. This is the Royal Border Bridge, built by Robert Stevenson and Berwick’s most famous landmark.

514bYou can see it in the background here. In the middle of the photo is the modern road bridge over the river and in the foreground, the older bridge.

It was at the foot of the old bridge that Man and I came across a fellow photographer who told us you could walk all the way around the walls of this border town. Nice guy, very enthusiastic about the delights the town had to offer.

Walls have been important to the people of Berwick. It has been in the firing line on more occasions than most towns.

Captured or sacked 13 times before it finally fell to the English, the Elizabethans built walls around the town to keep the marauding Scots out.

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They built them well and they have stood the test of time for the most part, giving Berwick one of the most complete bastioned town defences in northern Europe. And from these walls you get some great views across the estuary.

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And below the walls is a great place to sit and gaze out to sea.

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This is also the home of England’s first purpose-built barracks, now owned by English Heritage.

530bBuilt in the eighteenth century, it houses museums, buttresses, batteries and a Russian canon.

525bThe surroundings of other fortifications in the centre of town have been turned into a car park – park at your own risk, the seagulls have a habit of ‘decorating’ the vehicles :)

516bEverywhere there is evidence of old architecture.

543bThis looked to me like an old church wall. Interesting how just one single wall of whatever this was was allowed to remain when all other traces of the building have disappeared.

529bAnd this has to be the most picturesque setting for allotments that I’ve ever seen … and they were all so beautifully kept.

545bBut although the town walls are incredibly preserved, the same cannot be said of the castle. Just ruins remain, but I have seen those ruins, so that is another castle knocked off the list for my Fifty before Fifty challenge.

542bThis sign was everywhere and it made me smile. In one image it looks as though the dog is weeing up the tree and in the other, well you can see. Struck me as quite appropriate for the Urban Sanitary Authority.

We found a highly unusual church, but that merits a post all of it’s own. And we checked off a pub from Man’s Good Pub Guide.

503bThis was the old schoolhouse. Now it is The Leaping Salmon where you can (and we did) purchase a large black coffee and a pint of the finest Hobgoblin for the bargainous price of just £2.75. Now that is worth driving to Berwick for.

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There aren’t so many battles in Berwick-upon-Tweed any more. Now it is just a bustling, friendly market town with a lot of history.

But, if and when the Scots gain independence from the union, well who knows. Berwick will once again take its place in history as a border town.

243bYou know you can’t get lucky all the time and there was one minor disappointment during our recent trip to Northumberland.

While there I wanted to check off some castles for my Fifty before Fifty challenge, but there are also two Churches Coservation Trust churches in the area that I wanted to see as part of the same challenge. One is actually in Northumberland and one on the border with Durham.

We thought we’d check them out on our way home and make a day of the journey.

So I checked the website, both were listed as being open daily and off we went.

This is the first one, St Andrew’s at Bywell, Northumberland.

We found it without too much difficulty. It was closed.

I looked on the noticeboards to see if there was any information about a keyholder but there wasn’t.

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So we walked around a bit.

This church is old, Saxon in fact and built around 850. It was once part of a thriving market town by the Tyne, though not much remains now.

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This is a great example of a Saxon tower though.

Inside St Andrew’s is apparently a ‘glittering reredos’, a mosaic sanctuary floor and some fine Victorian stained glass, but I didn’t get to see any of those.

But what I most wanted to see were the ‘magnificent early Medieval grave slabs’ that the CTC website told me about.

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Luckily, some of them were set into the outside walls, although there are, I believe, more inside.

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239bBut those I did see were lovely. I love early Medieval carvings and the carvings of these are meant to depict the occupations of the people on whose grave they lay.

Now St Andrew’s sits next to, and by next to I mean within a few yards of, another Saxon church, the church of St Peter’s. Quite frankly having two Saxon churches in such lovely condition in one village is a little greedy methinks :)

232bThis one was closed too.

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I tried to call the Revd. Bill Rigby whose phone number was further down the sign, to see if he knew who held the keys to St Andrew’s but he was on another call and though ‘the person you are trying to contact knows you are waiting’, he was obviously busy and didn’t answer.

It seemed strange to me that two churches had been built at roughly the same time in such close proximity. A little research told me that St Peter’s was in fact built as the parish church of Bywell and St Andrew’s may originally have been the parish church for the long-since vanished village of Styford.

In between the two churches stands a market cross.

231bMaybe this was the meeting place that marked the boundaries of the villages of Bywell and Styford? Who knows?

So that was the minor disappointment of our trip – and it didn’t turn out to be that much of a disaster after all. Although I would like to see inside St Andrew’s and I am not sure when I am going to be able to return to Northumberland.

The clock is ticking… only 2.2 years until I’m fifty :)

(The second CTC church of that day will feature in another post all of it’s own)